October 9, 2005

"I always think they're showing off, and probably they're not typing anything; they're just hitting the keyboard."

The writers' shared workspace:
Paragraph and the Writers Junction are part of a growing number of members-only centers springing up in writerly metropolises like New York, Boston and Los Angeles. For $100 a month, on average, members secure the right to a desk, a lamp and a power strip in a shared space where they can ply their trade day and night.

Ms. Parisi compares writers' rooms to gyms. In both, a large group of people share the same equipment. And, paying for membership helps writers take their commitment to writing seriously, she said, and gets them "off of the couch" and onto the literary StairMaster....

And like exercise buffs, the writers who use these spaces need to be self-motivated and disciplined. "The concept of writers as drunken Hemingwayesque malcontents traveling the globe is over," Ms. Cecil said. "They see it as a job now, and they see themselves not as inspired alcoholics, or depressive psychopaths alone in a tenement. It's more mainstream. It's good kids going to M.F.A. programs, then looking for a place to find the kind of writerly community they had in grad school."...

You might think that a writer surrounded by dozens of direct competitors tapping away at the Great American Novel would find his creative juices frozen, not freed. But the playwright Kirk Wood Bromley, a member of the Brooklyn space, says he finds the atmosphere bracing. "I think writers get jazzed by writing in a room with other writers," he said. "Writing is a very competitive art."

Another Brooklyn member, the novelist Lisa Selin Davis, was less jazzed. "I hear people typing and I freak out," she said. "I think: 'They're typing so fast. Why aren't I?' And then you've got the loud typists, and I always think they're showing off, and probably they're not typing anything; they're just hitting the keyboard."

There is something about being surrounded by other people working that can make you feel that what you are trying to do is real. But then there is that way that you can get alienated all over again, where you feel that all the others are doing something real, and you're the fake, and maybe they can tell. And then there's just that $100 a month you're spending. That could be an incentive, but it could also haunt you and worry you and make you feel that you owe your writing to some boss, but you're really that boss, who's paid for you, so you'd better get cracking. And then you can fritter away even more hard-bought time wondering if this really is the way an artist ought to live. But, then, didn't you set yourself up here to overcome procrastination? Oh, why don't you just think about that for a while?

19 comments:

Joan said...

That sounds absolutely ghastly to me. Given the choice between writing in a crowded public space and at home, when I can get up and get a snack or a cup of tea or look something up in a book (yes, I still do that from time to time), home wins every time.

I've done a lot writing "at work." Of course it wasn't "creative" writing, but specs and technical documentation require no less attention, and I'd even go so far as to say that software design (as opposed to implementation) is as creative a process as writing fiction. But the office was never the optimal place for me to write, and I'd often come in early or stay late so I could think through things without being interrupted or distracted by co-workers.

I'm mystified by people who seek out an environment which would seem to lead to decreased productivity by its very nature. My only guess is that this is an attempt to make writing less "lonely," a sense I've felt over years. But unless I'm collaborating with someone, I don't see the point of having other people around.

amba said...

Tell Lisa they're probably typing, "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy."

Ron said...

As long as they're not typing "redrum redrum redrum..."

Then I leave the room.

Jake said...

The most successful writers write so many words or pages a day-no matter what. That discipline gets them through their writer blocks. Of course, some day's output has to be thrown away but they still write.

These writers' rooms might give some people the needed discipline to write a standard daily output-no matter what.

The writers who only write when they are inspired usually end up alcoholics.

katiebakes said...

I wonder how many of them are actually just sitting there chatting online. Or writing blog entries! Or comments!

Ann Althouse said...

Maybe they're right here.

John Koman said...

I cannot tell you how many time I have set foot in a coffeehouse or B&N or Borders in the Los Angeles area and seen some person apparently furiously writing or talking loudly about what they are writing to someone. These are not your usual students studying, but these folks have created what amounts to a Hollywood-esque "scene" of what a tortured writer should look like in a fit of brilliance. They are surrounded with a set of off-the-shelf books about writing/screenwriting/"how to get published" books sprawled out around them, their attire is perfectly dishevelled and they are hyper-aware of those around them. I guess it is another way to attract producers and get discovered akin to working as waiting tables in LA or a new performance art movement in the making.

It is not that different than the day traders during dot com boom or more recently the real estate players who populated these places and used them as their offices and soap boxes.

Ann Althouse said...

Tag: That choice of books would seem to me to be embarrassing to anyone trying to convey the image that they are a writer. I should think they'd want to surround themselves with great literature not how-to books.

Finn Kristiansen said...

I agree with Joan's comments. Paying for space to write in a room with others is indeed ghastly. It seems to me that one is never likely to be a writer if one must use such methods to maintain motivation.

I think the problem is that so many people want to write, and are capable of stringing words together impressively, but too often have nothing to say, or have no defining message they wish to share. That makes for slow going.

I tend to believe that writing begins with a message, and once you are passionate about it, everything else will fall into place.

AJ Lynch said...

This sounds like a business model that could make money. Placed next to a cool internet cafe- it could fill in the dead times/ space.

And I agree it has a bloggish slant to it.

Wonder if it would work in Philly? I've always wanted to own a bar or cafe.

Robert said...

It sounds ghastly, but to each their own.

I employ writers. I find that the best motivation is to not pay them if they don't produce any work. ;)

Meade said...

AJ Lynch: That just gave me an idea for a startup business, a members only center where, for a fee, people who have always wanted to own a bar or cafe can secure a bar with stools, an espresso maker, liquor and ingredients in a shared space where they can ply their trade day and night. Call it "Bar and Cafe Junction" - all the fun; half the risk.

Ann Althouse said...

Yeah, I can already go to a café and have a table and WiFi and be around other people while I write. I might spend $100 a month on coffee, but, you know, I'd have coffee. And on days when I don't go I pay nothing.

Now, maybe the charm is different in NYC where it's harder to get a table at a café and there are crowds of people coming in for take out coffee, screwing up the ambiance. And maybe you want to insure that the people around you are writers and you imagine you'll get to some social life this way.

Meade said...

Yes, well, I can see right off that at Bar and Cafe Junction we may have to take an aggressive approach to supplying select "customers" for our clients - cool trend-setting bloggers, disheveled aspiring writers, harmless psychotics - that sort of thing. We'll screen them of course, and pay them to be customers to our clients.

We'll launch in Hollywood. Can't miss.

John Koman said...

I would agree about the desire to see the works of great lit, but in LA, screenwritters are not known for their ability to come up with great original stories. There are those out there, but consider that the people out doing serious work, whatever it may be, are probably too busy doing it rather than working with others hoping to be inspired or scared into working by others near by and best yet they are willing to pay for it.

If I were an attorney, I would start posting a lawyer/agent at every site, so that the writers could settle plagiarism disputes on the spot for a small fee and make sure that each idea or synopsis was recorded in order their were received. There is something in here that is akin to the "tipping point" hypothesis.

None the less, I am sure it will show up in someone's sociology thesis or it may morph into "NeoTrad" clique where the use of manual typewritters and carbon paper will be given its renaissance. (the "NeoTrad" label was seen in a totally incomprehesible art gallery show diatribe on the need to "stay connected" to "our past" while "embracing" new "technology").

clubs have been showcasing bands that "pay to play" for decades to which I am grateful because it kept the clubs open through some rough times. In all, I know that markets work and that blogs and e-mail have been more inspirational and informative to my work as a teacher than any face time with my peers, and the price is a bargain in comparison.

Thanks for the comments and keep blogging, I am a fan.

tag

reader_iam said...

There could also be a practical aspect, especially where rents are high even for smaller places, such that you might a number of roommates. A simple lack of privacy, and the inabiity to escape people (such as roommates, but even family members)who may feel they have the right to interrupt you, might make that space quite attractive. And while the $100 might not seem a lot, in a larger city, it's not as if that amount of money would likely get you a larger apartment, much less office space. So part of the appeal might be simple economics intersecting with the reality of big-city life.

If I didn't have my own office in my own home, I might be tempted.

Then there are all the other reasons other posters have given ...

Bruce Hayden said...

reader_iam

But an office in the home probably takes more discipline than almost anything else. Too many potential interuptions and distractions.

reader_iam said...

Bruce: That can be the case, but it depends on the home, the office, the individual, and the family "culture," if you will. We are a telecommuter and a freelancer here, with long histories as such, and both raised in families with strong self-employed and/or work-at-home components, such that in our lives there never was a pure home-life/work-life split. The need (and skills--and physical space!) to manage distraction, therefore, was a given. Without all of this, I think a group space (other than library carrels, which is what I used to use, years ago, when I had mltiple, unrelated roommates) might be very attractive. At least the other people there would, theoretically, appreciate the needs of other writers.

And in any case, your point sort of supports mine--that the "group site" might be very practical depending on your living situation, and a bargain in urban or other areas where "upgrading" your home to accommodate office space or affording a place of your own is cost-prohibitive, by comparison.

Mortaine said...

A lot of writers do fine with this kind of group-writing activity during NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). Granted, there are a lot of "non-writers" writing, but I know for myself, I am more productive when I write in a group.

However, I am also a strong extrovert personality-- I know a lot of writers who are too introverted to feel comfortable writing in a crowd.

Everyone has their own style. I probably pay about $100/month for coffee in the coffeeshops I write in; I'm not sure there's much difference.